Self Care for Photographers: Why You Need to Do More Core Work

For years, I had a lot of significant back pain. It was only in my 30s that I realized how crucial exercise is. Couple that with the fact that we’ve reviewed the most camera bags of any publication on the web, and you genuinely need exercise. Thankfully, the back pain has gone away with exercise. But more importantly, what we found is that it’s all about exercising your core. If you’ve been curious about self-care for photographers, we invite you to dive in with us.

Why work on your core? Well, a robust and stable core can help with various things. It allows you to stand straighter and carry camera bags for longer periods of time. In our tests, we often walk for miles with camera bags. We don’t expect most photographers to do that unless they’re on a photo walk or hiking. So in that regard, our camera bag tests tend to go a bit overboard at times. But, as we’ve discovered by talking to various folks in the photo industry, core strength is super important.

I can tell you a lot of what happened to me before I lost weight and started working on my own core. I, like many photographers, spend a lot of time in front of a computer. This sedentary position means the body can become hunched over a keyboard for a long time. It also means that you’re not working the muscles you really need. This resulted in lots of back pain because my core just couldn’t handle heavy camera bags. Beyond just that, it meant that standing up with cameras slung around me also wore on my back and chest after a while. Basically, my body wasn’t strong enough to even do my job. You wouldn’t ask someone who can’t lift sheetrock over their head to do that job. So how can a photographer do theirs if they’re not physically fit enough to do it? Imagine doing this for a long wedding, an all-night party, or a day job shooting corporate headshots.

“Physical fitness, in particular core strength, is something I take very seriously,” says photographer Spencer Bentley. “The type of photography I specialize in requires me to work with athletes. I need to be able to match their energy, plus my style includes a lot of lower angles that can be challenging, especially with a lot of gear.” We’ve featured Spencer a lot on the site. And he’s always had to be fit for the work he does. He continued to reinforce that countless hours spent editing is also pretty bad for your back. In fact, he says it can wreck your posture.

“To ensure I get my workout in every day, I do it first thing in the morning when I wake up. I do a 30 minute yoga flow or dedicated core workout and sit in meditation for 15-20 minutes.”

Photographer Spencer Bentley’s workout routine

I can agree completely with Spencer’s routine. Personally, I beat obesity years ago through intermittent fasting, indoor cycling, and yoga. And for the past few years, I’ve maintained an overweight status while still being considered very fit for 34 years old and five foot six inches. Things change over the years too. This year I returned to doing yoga or pilates every day. Some days I do both. I also walk for around two miles when I go to the studio. But one of the most surprising things that I’ve done too is modifying my diet. I cut back a lot on meat after observing what all the extra hormones were doing to my cholesterol. (Still, you’ll need pry lamb shoulder from my cold, dead hands.) Even after a workout, though, I don’t need to have animal protein all the time. But that’s just my body; self-care for photographers can take on many different routines.

A while back, I wrote about the benefits of photo walking, self-care for photographers, and weight loss. It took lots of commitment, but I combined intermittent fasting, yoga, and indoor cycling to keep myself fit. In under a quarter of a year, I started to see results. Suddenly, my core could carry camera bags and shoot for longer periods of time again. It was so freeing. Going upstairs felt easier, my joints felt better, and my back didn’t hurt as badly. 

Photographer Katia Repina is pretty big on fitness. She agrees with us that this is a huge issue. “Strong core helps to protect the back,” Katia explains. Katia surrounds herself with lots of folks who care about fitness. She’s well known in the yoga world as well.

“My personal practice: I do martial arts (Jeet Kune Do) for general strength, as well as hot yoga and home workouts with a lot of core exercises. I juggle between these to surprise the body. To add to this I stretch a lot, particularly focusing on my core. I also use heat pads and foam roller for my lower back and apply heating cream after exercising.

Photographer Katia Repina’s fitness routine.

Self-care for photographers is essential. And it’s something that many of us deny ourselves. But it can come in a variety of different ways. Maybe if your back hurts, you can roll it out with a foam roller or a Chirp Wheel. And if the bag that you’re using is causing pain, switch it up. I’ve known many street photographers who only want to use messenger bags. But messenger bags are some of the worst things for your back. Brands like Tenba have started to include waist straps to take the weight off your shoulders. And some backpacks often have both waist straps and sternum straps.

When the pandemic hit, I stopped doing a lot of exercise, as did most people. So I struggled to find an online platform that could help me stay in shape. I, like many folks, hate working out at home. When the studios opened up again, I was one of the first in my neighborhood to go back. But during that time, Yoga with Kassandra’s YouTube channel really helped. She does a lot of different flows and holds from various types of yoga. Best of all, she has a few videos with minimal cues for when you don’t want to hear an instructor speak often. Man Flow Yoga also really helped a lot when I wanted something more intense. What you’ll realize is that some of the exercises are what you probably did in gym class growing up. 

If you’re a bit confused, try Hatha, Vinyasa, or Yin. Restorative yoga helps a lot too!

Lots of folks also don’t like using proper camera bags for their body and kit weight needs. But the truth is that other backpacks aren’t designed to do what a camera bag can do. Getting a real, proper camera bag designed for the job is a healthy and proper start.

“Every move begins with the core – being centered, focused on your present moment and stability,” says Kiran Karnarni, VP of Marketing for Leica Camera USA. Kiran is also RYT-200 Certified in Hatha Yoga, Children’s Yoga, Chair Yoga & Reiki.

“My daily 30-minute yoga practice includes 7 minutes of core exercises using a stability ball, small exercise ball, and yoga strap. One minute each of leg lifts, curl-ups, oblique ankle reach, pilates corkscrew, mountain climbers, plank and reverse crunches.”

Kiran Karnarni, VP of Marketing for Leica Camera USA

Personally speaking, yoga was one of the best things I could do for my back and my photography. I stretched and strengthened tons of muscles using body weight. Lots of folks are afraid of it because of misconceptions around the practice. But like anything, you’re supposed to make it your own. You don’t have to do a headstand — and any teacher that has told me to put my foot on my shoulder has been met with an uncomfortable death stare.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.